Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: June 06, 2017
Webpage revised: May 27, 2021




It was a nice sunny day at North Road Plymouth Station when this picture
of British Railways' Battle of Britain class 34058 "Sir Frederick Pile" paused on a train to Tavistock.
From the author's collection.

As from Thursday January 1st 1948 the railways of Great Britain were nationalized under the British Transport Commission and the Railway Executive, trading as, and much better known as, British Railways. 

The lines of the former Great Western Railway Company became the Western Region and those of the former Southern Railway Company became the Southern Region.  The Laira Engine Shed and Friary Engine Shed were also taken over.

Both Regions adopted their original colour schemes as their "corporate colours" for their carriages: chocolate brown for the Western Region and malachite green for the Southern.  A new series of station name boards in a lozenge shape, each with its Regions colours, were produced to adorn stations.  Carriages remained green on the Southern Region, although a darker shade was later adopted, but changed completely on the Western over the years from chocolate and cream to British Railways corporate colour of plain maroon.

Although there was an Assistant Divisional Superintendent based at Friary Station in June 1948 the Southern Region's Control Office and Civil Engineer's Office were at Exeter Central Station.

Early events in the British Railways era included:

  • all former Southern Railway lines west of Cowley Bridge Junction, Exeter, were transferred to British Railways Western Region in 1950 and the maximum speed limit on those lines was reduced to 75mph;
  • new for Laira Engine Shed and Friary Engine Shed were introduced in 1950;
  • the former Southern Railway  Sutton Harbour and North Quay was the first closure, also in 1950;
  • the former Southern Railway Turnchapel Branch was closed due to a fuel crisis, reopened and then closed for good, all in the same year (1951);
  • Metrovic (Metropolitan Vickers Ltd) Gas Turbine locomotive number 18100 made its first visit to Plymouth in 1952;
  • Saint Budeaux West Signal Box was closed, the former Great Western Railway Launceston Station was closed and all traffic diverted to the former Southern Railway Station, Ford Station was closed to goods traffic, and two Ivatt 2-5-2 tank locomotives started work on the Callington Branch (1952)
  • ;
  • the Queen Mother visited Plymouth, the "Titfield Thunderbolt" ran over the Turnchapel Branch and Plymouth's Millbay Station had a visit from the British Transport Commission's Royal Train stock and relics during 1953;
  • Her  Royal Highness the Princess Margaret visited Plymouth (1954), having unusually travelled over the old Southern Railway route from London Waterloo;
  • Lee Moor Crossing Signal Box was closed (1955);
  • the rebuilding of North Road Plymouth Station was recommenced, the Princetown Branch was closed, Mannamead Signal Box was closed, and the members of the Plymouth Railway Circle walked across the top of the Royal Albert Bridge (1956);
  • a new express train, "The Royal Duchy", was introduced and the most famous ex-Great Western Railway locomotive, "City of Truro", visited Plymouth and Penzance (1957);
  • Friary Engine Shed took delivery of its first diesel shunters, the former Southern lines west of Exeter, except those within Plymouth, were transferred back to the Southern Region, Friary Station and Laira Yard were closed and the Western Region's new 2,000 horse power diesel hydraulic locomotive D600 "Active" arrived in the City  (1958);
  • Messrs Ian Allan Limited ran a special steam-hauled train from London Waterloo to Plymouth and back to London Paddington (1958);
  • Plympton Station, Cornwood Station, Ivybridge Station, Bittaford Platform and Wrangaton Station were all closed to passenger traffic, the platforms at Millbay Station were demolished, Friary Junction Signal Box was closed, and the Great Western Travelling Post Office included some newly built rolling stock (1959);
  • the new Laira Diesel Depot was opened and the first Diesel multiple unit arrived (1960);
  • members of the Plymouth Railway Circle enjoyed last journeys on the Yealmpton Branch and the Stonehouse Quay Branch (1960);
  • the Saltash Suburban Service went over to Diesel operation (1960);
  • the new booking-hall at Plymouth Station and the new Plymouth Panel Box were opened (1960);
  • the Westward Television Exhibition train visited Plymouth on its tour of Devon and Cornwall (1961);
  • members of the Plymouth Railway Circled enjoyed steam trips to Sutton Harbour, Millbay Docks and on the Turnchapel Branch (1961);
  • the Turnchapel Branch was closed beyond Plymstock Station and goods facilities were withdrawn from Saint Budeaux Victoria Road Station (1961);
  • Friary "B" Signal Box, Tamerton Foliot Station and the goods sidings at Bere Alston Station were all taken out of use (1962);
  • the  last steam working on the Saltash Suburban Service and the closure of the Launceston Branch (1962);

On Monday January 1st 1963 the British Railways Board took over responsibility for the running of the railways from the British Transport Commission's Railway Executive.  The Transport Act 1962 gave the Board the status of a public corporation and put an end to its treatment in law as a common carrier protected by the Government.  From now on the railways had to pay their way.  On the same date all the Southern Region west of Salisbury, in Wiltshire, was transferred to British Railways Western Region for the final time.  This was the first nail in the coffin of the old Southern route to Plymouth.

Wednesday March 27th 1963 was the day on which the notorious Beeching Report, "The Reshaping of British Railways", was published.  The proposals required the closure of 266 lines, 2,300 stations and 800 freight handling depots and the major modification of 71 other services.  Locally, in respect of the Southern Region, the Plan required the closure of Devonport King's Road Station, Ford Station, and Saint Budeaux Victoria Road Station and the whole of the route to Tavistock North and Okehampton; and the Bere Alston to Callington Branch.

On Saturday March 31st 1963 the Railway Clearing House (RCH) was disbanded after 120 years and its functions and staff transferred to the Chief Accountant's Department of the British Railways Board.  The RCH had been apportioning railway receipts between the British railway companies since 1842.

From then on events moved swiftly:

  • Plymstock Signal Box, Friary Engine Shed, and Cattewater Junction Signal Box were closed, and Wrangaton, Plymstock and Saltash Stations had their freight facilities withdrawn (1963);

  • the curve from Cornwall Junction Signal Box to Devonport Junction Signal Box was closed (1963);

  • the Plymouth Railway Circle and the Railway Correspondence and  Travel Society ran "The Cornubian" steam train to Penzance and Messrs Ian Allan Limited ran the "Great Western Limited" steam train from London Paddington to Plymouth Station (1964);

  • Plympton Station was closed, as were Devonport King's Road Station and Ford Station and the section of the Launceston Branch between Tavistock Station and Lydford Station (1964).

As from January 1st 1965 the British Railways Board rebranded itself as "British Rail".